Gone are the days of plugging away one set at a time on a stand-alone strength machine. Thankfully, the focus is moving away from single-joint exercises to moving the body three-dimensionally. After all, we live in a three-dimensional world, so the body needs to move in all ranges of motion, not just one.
Designing a training program performing exercises that move the body forward, back, side-side, and twisting allows the body to adapt to everyday movement patterns outside the gym. If we train in all ranges of motion, the body is armed and ready to move safely and confidently through the day, minimizing the potential for injury.
If you are new to exercise or getting back at it after a long hiatus, you should begin with a comprehensive circuit routine that focuses on technique, moves your body in all dimensions, and targets all the major muscle groups is a great place to start.
Table of Contents
- What Is Circuit Training?
- DIY Circuit Program
- Want to Leave It to the Pros?
- How to Make the Circuit Training Workouts Easier?
- Want to Kick It Up a Notch?
- Final Thoughts
- More Articles About Beginner-Friendly Workouts
What Is Circuit Training?
Circuit training is a style of programming that combines a set number of exercises (five to ten) performed back to back for a set time, followed by short periods of rest. Circuit training is often confused with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). While both offer a fair amount of flexibility and creativity, there are notable differences.
- Exercise type varies.
- Comprised of 5-10 exercises performed back to back
- Perform 1-4 circuits within a workout depending on time
- Perform each exercise for time or repetitions
- Each station alternates the upper and lower body to avoid overuse
- Controls the intensity to ensure the proper technique
- Uses the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (0=no effort and 10= maximal effort). The effort ranges from 5-8 (RPE).
- Workouts are 20 to 60 minutes.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- The intensity of the workout varies.
- HIITs were initially designed for cardiovascular endurance.
- Perform each exercise at maximal effort RPE of 8-10.
- Work to rest ratios is smaller. For instance, performing an exercise (Jump Squats) using a Tabata style: 20 sec of work followed by 10 sec of rest for eight rounds.
One of the most common challenges with exercise is boredom, staying motivated and consistent for the long hall, and learning to program a safe workout. It is hard to get bored when you are moving from one exercise to another and have to focus on proper technique, muscle recruitment, and counting repetitions, or watching the clock. With a well-designed circuit program, you will solve these issues and feel motivated to keep going as you build your confidence.
I use circuit work to avoid boredom, help clients avoid unnecessary injuries, rehabilitate from previous injuries, improve cardiovascular fitness and strength, mobility, flexibility, and overall body awareness and control. Circuit training is also beneficial if you are short on time and looking to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your workouts.
Please be aware that if you are not used to working out with higher intensity, begin slowly and always consult with a professional and your doctor before any workout to ensure it is an appropriate place to start.
DIY Circuit Program
Take all the guesswork out of designing a circuit program. Once you have learned the steps to put your program together, the options are endless. There are different variables to consider when planning your program: current fitness level, physical limitations, goals, equipment, and time available.
Every time I change my routine, I start small then build up. Below is a simple blueprint using just your body weight to get you started. You can adjust them as your variables change.
Step 1: Determine Your Timeframe
Decide how many sets, repetitions, or amount of time you will perform each exercise based on your current fitness level and timeframe.
- Beginner: 1 -2 sets of 10-15 repetitions or 30 sec of work 20 sec of rest
- Intermediate: 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions or 45 sec of work 10-20 sec of rest
- Advanced : 3-5 sets or 8-12 repetitions or 60 sec of work 10-30 sec of rest
Always warm up before beginning any exercise program, and rest a minute after each complete set of exercises
Step 2: Select Your Exercises
Select two from each group:
Upper Body Exercises
- Elevated Push-Ups – Perform this exercise off your kitchen counter, chair, or coffee table before moving to the floor.
- Mt Climbers
- Bear Crawl Hold
- High Plank Shoulder Taps
- Elevated High to Low Plank – Perform this exercise off a chair or coffee table if you are a beginner.
Lower Body Exercises
- Stationary Lunges
- Side Lunges
- Floor Bridge
- Core Roll-Up – Perform 1/2 roll back if this exercise is too difficult.
- Butterfly Sit-Ups
- Forearm Plank Rock – Perform this exercise off a chair or coffee table if you are a beginner.
- Side Plank Hip Drop
- Single-Leg Jack Knife
- Jumping Jacks
- Jump Rope
- High Knee Skips
- Lateral Hops
- Side to Side Shuffle
Step 3: Putting It All Together
Below is an example of a circuit training workout by putting all the factors mentioned in steps one and two together.
Beginner: 1-2 sets or 30 sec of work and 20 sec of rest (per side where applicable)
- Elevated Push-Up
- Bear Crawl Hold
- Forearm Plank Rock
- Single-Leg Jack Knife
- High Knee Skips
- Side to Side Shuffle
Rest for one minute after completing one round of each exercise.
Want to Leave It to the Pros?
Below, I’ve designed a progressive total body circuit training workout that you can begin right now to build strength, flexibility, mobility, and endurance. There are three sets of circuit workouts with three stages each. Perform each stage of the program once or twice a week for four weeks. Once you have mastered the first stage easily, move on to the next one.
How to Make the Circuit Training Workouts Easier?
If you are new to exercise and are focused on technique, slow it down and modify each movement. Elevate it using your kitchen counter or coffee table if you can’t do a push-up on the floor. Don’t want to jump? No problem. Take the jump out of any squat, perform step-out jacks, or do imaginary jump rope with alternating forward steps.
As you progress, continue decreasing the height of the table for push-ups, add the jump back in, or increase the speed and amount of repetitions completed within the time frame. The important thing is to learn each movement safely and have fun.
Want to Kick It Up a Notch?
If you have been working out consistently with great technique for more than four to six months, it is time for a well-deserved upgrade. But if you are home with minimal equipment, creating additional overload (an essential concept in strength training to increase the size and strength of the muscle and a whole other topic) is challenging but not impossible.
As a beginner who is working out consistently, gaining strength and some muscle is relatively simple because you go from doing sporadic exercise to becoming more serious and organized about your workouts. As you get stronger, you will need to get creative with your programming and make the exercises harder over time.
In the chart above, time under tension is one of the best ways to do it if you aren’t adding extra weight. I would also add a couple of isometric holds within the 60 second period. For instance, perform five repetitions of a push-up, hold for five seconds in the contraction phase, then complete five more push-ups. Repeat this sequence for the remainder of the time.
Don’t let circuit training workouts intimidate you. Beginning with a few exercises and moving at your own fitness level is a great starting point. It will keep you interested as you transition from exercise to exercise.
More Articles About Beginner-Friendly Workouts
- Best Bodyweight Workouts For Beginners (The Complete Guide)
- Getting Fit Over 40: The 7 Best Workout Routines for Beginners
- 7 Interval Training Exercises Best for Beginners
Featured photo credit: Alexandra Tran via unsplash.com
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